DAMASCUS — Conflict in the Middle East has led to the collapse of higher education institutions, leaving almost 150,000 Syrian students displaced. With 20,000 higher education institutions worldwide, Allan Goodman, the CEO and president of the Institute of International Education (IIE), insists that even admitting and supporting one Syrian student to each school would make an incredible difference in preventing a “global lost generation.”
This “lost generation” would face overwhelmingly pessimistic statistics if the education crisis in Syria is not resolved. UNICEF reports that displaced Syrian students result in a lost human capital of $10.7 billion, when the millions of children without even primary education are also accounted for. For girls, whose risk of sexual violence, exploitation and slavery skyrockets without educational enrollment, living in a conflict zone makes them 90 percent less likely to receive secondary education.
In fact, when Syrian universities are taken over by the Islamic State, the first action is often to segregate men and women, forcing women to wear Islamic dress and monitoring the curriculum to be sure that it accommodates the State’s view of Islamic teachings. Even if compliant, universities in Syria are being seized and closed by ISIS. Often used as epicenters for protests, many universities are simply destroyed, and the students arrested or killed.
In the U.S., aid for Syrian students has had to circumvent increasingly contentious government policies. However, through a program called the IIE Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis, students can find support through individual universities. The consortium reaches out to institutions to provide opportunities for Syrian students to receive an education. The IIE began the program only five years ago, in 2012. In 2015, there were 13 schools in the U.S. and abroad that specifically designated scholarships to Syrian students. Now, there are more than sixty.
The top five host institutions are the Illinois Institute of Technology, Monmouth College, Montclair State University, Saint Joseph University in Lebanon and the University of Evansville. The list continues to grow consistently, with other notable U.S. universities including Brown University, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, University of Southern California and much more. Most of the schools in the consortium are in the United States, though other programs abroad are working in partnership with the IIE to abate the Syrian education crisis.
The greatest challenge to aiding displaced Syrian students is the cost of education. This issue plagues countries with the most Syrian refugees, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Even as enrollment of Syrian students increases in Turkish universities, statistics from 2014 showed that 98 percent of university-aged refugees were not enrolled in higher education.
The German Academic Exchange Service is one of the major partners of IIE’s efforts to aid displaced Syrian students. In Germany, where college tuition is free, $110 million has been invested into staffing, advising, language courses and more that will facilitate learning for refugees.
The EU designated approximately $13.5 million to pay for scholarships and short-term programs for Middle Eastern students, including those who have fled Syria. Furthermore, the World University Service of Canada pledges full financial support for the first year of a refugee student’s education.
Displaced Syrian students face a long battle back into the system of higher education, but there is wide support from organizations across the globe. The Institute for International Education is one of the largest rallying forces, bringing awareness and unity to universities that have the potential to make a difference for the “lost generation.”
Such organizations will continue to steer students away from the current forces of poverty and extremism and toward a future of civility and education.
– Brooke Clayton